Posted By Administration,
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
If we asked, “Do you know your community?” most of you would say, “Yes, I know the community I serve.” You know the demographics, you know the population, you know the general make up of it. Yes, you know your community.
But your own personal experiences shape your view of the communities you serve. If we encourage you to broaden your perspective, you’ll find resources and tools to help you look at your community from outside your personal experiences—perhaps shedding a new light and a providing a new vision.
If you are reading this post, you are not satisfied with a simple answer or benchmark and are ready to move beyond business as usual. Congratulations to you! You’re eager to position your business more strategically.
Find the Data
You have data that paints an overall picture of the market: disposition data, what motivates consumers, what they’re buying, etc. Understanding statistics is a good way to forecast your business’s future. Start with the data you collect at your funeral home. Train your directors and apprentices on the specific things that should be entered into your computer software. From this, you can tell where your deaths come from, the ZIP code, the average age, the race, the average cremation sales average—all with just a few requests through the software program.
Then there are trusted sources of information for our industry to get a big picture of the forces at work.
Be sure to visit your local public library. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting business data.
Apply the Data
Assume that you do nothing to expand or change services to cremation families over the next five years. Find the cremation rate of your state or province and your business. Compare those rates against the rate of cremation growth and your total calls. Think about your sales averages now and consider what they will look like projected in the coming years. Ensure your casketed burial sales are not subsidizing your cremation sales. The number of deaths is increasing but so is the cremation rate, both of which are projected to increase for the next 20+ years.
Initiate this exercise with your staff at the next staff meeting: Engage them in tracking a variety of your business transactions. Keep a record of each keepsake sold, each special request fulfilled, etcetera and log them in your software to help you build a better data set and transform your numbers into solid metrics. An added benefit to this training is your staff becoming more conscious of interactions and opportunities. Discuss the trends and experiences you all have regularly to learn from each other. New package opportunities may emerge. Trends and feedback may drive marketing language. Your people, employees, colleagues and families are your best champions through their own behavior and interactions.
As the cremation rate climbs, steadily, with an anticipated plateau north of 70%, metrics and statistics become increasingly important. Cremation customers want personalized experiences and therefore your service offerings will be transformed. Your revenue mix becomes more complex and margins shrink so every family served matters. Every option every time can be overwhelming, or it can be your core.
The number of deaths are increasing and will do so for the next 20+ years. The cremation percentage, and therefore numbers, will also increase. So now,
- What does this mean for your business?
- How will you define your business in a crowded cremation marketplace?
What's Your Blind Spot?
We all have them. Those unknowable unknowns that no book, report, or presentation will answer. We assert that your blind spot is understanding who your competition is and how much market share you hold. It is nearly impossible to quantify as businesses become more specialized and competition more fierce. Keep counting obituaries and tracking your nearby funeral homes and cremation societies. But be aware of other sources of competition. For instance, the statewide online service that offers direct cremation and provides solutions to boomers making arrangements out of state.
Business Planning with Data
After reviewing your data, you may find you need to grow. Look at the numbers again and determine how much you need to grow to remain profitable in your developing market. Then calculate whether that amount of growth is possible—and we’ll go ahead and tell you that yes, it is entirely doable! Let’s look at three main strategies for growth: acquisition, organic growth within your current market, and redefining your market.
“But we’ve been trying to grow for several years and so far it hasn’t worked!” you say? That means you’ve got to do something new. This blog post will ask you to do something a little different, to think a little bit outside of your norm, and help you understand why there is value in that. Let’s look at what this means financially. Look at your data and look at your goal in terms of sales revenue. Let’s say that 20% growth is 20 additional calls and $140,000 of additional revenue. Long-term, that’s $100,000 in profit and an additional $500,000 in business value. Imagine if you increased those figures. So, we ask you, “Is it worth it to look at things differently and to really understand the community?”
Strategy #1 • Acquisition
Whenever you look at growth the first strategy to explore is acquisition. It’s a good strategy. But depending on the amount of growth you want to see, it may not be feasible. What capital is needed to buy a new business and how long will it take to recoup? If your goal for growth is only an additional 20 calls, buying a new business is would be over the top. If you do have your sights set higher, we refer you to the expert consultants who work to evaluate businesses for sale and growth. This piece is about statistics, so we’ll move on.
Strategy #2 • Organic Growth
Achievement through organic growth, means getting more from the resources that you currently have. The easiest way is to start by asking consumers how they chose you, typically in your aftercare survey. For many of families, the choice is based on personal experience. They already know the funeral director or firm. This means you want to get your funeral directors active in the community to build that awareness so that when the worst happens, people will look to you for support. Some consumers are motivated simply by location and convenience. You can’t relocate, but you can look at ways to make your location more convenient. What can you do to bring people back into your funeral home on a more regular basis so it’s part of their lifestyle?
In both cases, you want to take a look at your Aftercare and Outreach programs. Open your doors to the community to reach new sectors. Interact with them so they get to know your staff and build those relationships. Find ways to bring people into your funeral home at times that are not the emotional stress of a funeral, but throughout the year on an ongoing basis. Get people involved through social media and raise awareness of the funeral branch.
Your aftercare survey tells you about families you’ve already served and how to find more people like them—but for organic growth, you’ll need to look at the demographic data to understand your broader community.
A good place to start is evaluating your self-imposed service area. How did those boundaries get drawn? Your consumer doesn’t know that you’re constrained to a particular geographic area, so maybe you can push those borders a little further. Will your community drive a little farther for your services if you demonstrate the value they provide? Then take a look at pre-need. If you already have a program in place, look at the ages of your population. If 20% or more of the total population is 55 or older, you have what’s considered a “target-rich community” for pre-need. What can you do with your business and with your existing resources to capture additional calls through pre-need? Again, there is opportunity here.
Demographic Data Sources
There are so many data sources for demographic information that can serve as a great starting point.
Be sure to visit your local public library where they’ll have local and county reports on demographic data. It can be a great resource for accessing and interpreting demographic and business data.
Strategy #3 • Redefining Your Market
The third strategy is hardest to sell because it’s time- and effort-intensive. If you can do more with what you have, are you willing to go beyond what is traditionally considered your market and proactively look at the total market? Can you market your business as a funeral home for everyone in the community? Is there value in changing your marketing program? Look at the numbers and interpret what they’re really telling you.
Examine the growth of the minority sections of the community. The funeral home of the future will need to respond to all of the growing and developing cultures in the community. Even if you stay in your primary market area today, your market is changing. You need to start establishing new relationships in the community, changing your reputation so that you are the best funeral home for the entire community.
No matter where you are on the spectrum of cultural diversity, the more you reach out to understand and interact with the community, the more you can identify opportunities for growth. And this might not mean other ethnicities or religions. As CANA’s own demographic research pointed out, cultural shifts are occurring at every level and your old standby methods will not continue to serve us for long.
Putting a Plan into Action
It’s very easy for us to tell you how to do this. It’s easy to list these options and describe how they work in theory. But we know it’s not always so easy to implement these changes.
We also know that there are many resources out there. Go back to the start of this post and you’ll see recommendations for finding statistics reports and evaluating your situation. Look at your community. Evaluate your choices and envision the changes you might make. It may be scary to do this, but it’s even scarier not to.
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 51, Issue 2: “Know Your Community: Build Your Business” as transcribed from CANA Board Members Archer Harmon and Erin Whitaker’s presentation at CANA’s 2015 Cremation Symposium titled “Meeting the Cremation Needs of a Growing and Diverse Population in North America.” Some of this post was originally written for “The Answer is in Your Numbers” by Barbara Kemmis and Bob Boetticher, Jr. and published in The Funeral Director’s Guide to Statistics, 2016 Ed. by Kates-Boylston.
Special thanks to Erin Whitaker for her Data Collection Tips, available as a free pdf.
Members can read the full article with specific examples of connecting with and meeting the needs of rising diverse populations in the community in Vol. 51, Issue 2 of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.
tips and tools
Posted By Barbara Kemmis,
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Scan some recent headlines and you may see a recurring problem:
BCSO Looking for Owner of Abandoned Urn
Searching for Ashes Within Ashes
Salvation Army Receives Donated Urn Filled With Ashes
If cremation is final disposition, we cannot fully serve our communities when they need us most.
Legally, cremation is regarded as final disposition almost everywhere. However, even in places where there are laws on the books requiring placement in cemeteries, such laws are typically not enforced.
Historically, these laws were promoted by funeral directors and cemeterians who held certain assumptions about cremation families. Conventional wisdom dictated that cremation families didn't want ceremony and were focused on price—and therefore not worth the attention of an experienced funeral director. Thus, the laws were designed to protect traditional funeral service elements: casket, wake, clergy service, burial, graveside. Even the FTC Funeral Rule was created along those lines, requiring price disclosure of funeral elements but only addressing cremation as one item—direct cremation.
Our assumptions that cremation and funeral were diametrically opposed created the concept of “direct cremation.” On top of that, the laws that were enacted did more to teach the public that cremation doesn’t need service or burial than they did to prevent cremation’s rise in popularity. And the public continues to choose cremation.
So, after decades of telling the public that they don’t need our service and treating cremated remains as final disposition, how do we expect to change public perceptions now?
I’m not the first to say it, but this is a polarized profession. On one side, there are those who embrace the whole spectrum of cremation, from direct disposition to full service. The other side doesn’t believe in cremation and doesn’t understand the experience of the family beyond the transaction. Unfortunately, you can’t sell what you don’t believe. Tacking “Cremation Services” on to your company name by contracting with the local third party doesn’t mean cremation families will flock to your business—especially if you don’t understand why they’re choosing cremation in the first place.
For too many in the industry, cremation is fine on their terms: “Cremated remains can be buried—in fact you can even place two sets in one space!” Or “A wooden casket can be cremated and you can have the body present at a visitation and service prior to cremation.” Both of these statements are true and many families may find comfort in these rituals—but they aren’t the only truths. They’re not the only path toward healthy grieving and gathering.
Other providers segregate our communities by the labels of “traditional” or “cremation” because they “figured out what cremation families want” and it’s a transaction, not an experience. The resistance to creativity and personalization under the guise of ritual and dignity has done even more damage to consumer attitudes than regulation has.
Consumer watchdogs reinforce the assumption that cremation is merely disposition. Their arguments make cremation about price, where “dealing with the body” should be as cheap as possible to avoid being taken advantage of by funeral directors. Worse, funeral directors reinforce this by starting the conversation with pricing and not service. Low-cost, direct disposers succeed by speaking directly to cremation families in the same language as the media and watchdogs, reinforcing that funeral directors and cemeterians are mercenary and superfluous.
All this propaganda leaves consumers fearful and confused. Cremation is supposed to be simple! Complete some paperwork, make a few basic decisions, and take home a box—with little guidance and support, let alone memorialization ideas (and forget about any mention of permanent placement altogether).
In pop culture, memorialization is reserved for the military or the wealthy and scattering is the option for everyone else—other than maybe a fancy urn on the mantel. The funeral director’s expertise is absent.
Then there is the stereotypical funeral director. All stereotypes have a kernel of truth, otherwise they would be absurd and implausible instead of funny. The creepy, morbid, silent man in a black suit standing in the back of the room is funnier than a man or woman directing and educating the family in options to create a meaningful experience and finding a meaningful place for the remains to rest.
But we created this problem. There is no point in blaming hospice, Hollywood, or the watchdogs. Funeral directors, cemeterians, death care trade associations— we created this problem, and we need to find the solutions.
Strategies and Solutions
- Public trust is at an all-time low for institutions across the board. This is hard for funeral directors as first responders relied upon to serve people at need and anyone in the industry trusted with the memory and the finances of a loved one. Building trust is about transparency, communication, and apologizing when you’re in the wrong. In our industry, we have to go one step farther and educate the consumer about what we do. We can’t let watchdogs and the media tell our story and we have to demonstrate how we contribute to the public service.
- Building hospice and health care partnerships centered around grief services is brilliant. Maintaining a level of continuity builds the trust in the expertise of professional care. Too often, when somebody dies, health care’s job is done except for the paperwork. The grief services dictated by Medicare, delivered in conjunction with funeral homes, provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with a family and educate them about options. They’ve become used to the level of support and care of the medical profession, so abruptly turning the conversation to the transaction of a direct cremation is too jarring. We can do better.
- Funeral home and crematory staff are more than happy to help a family to their car with a box of cremated remains. Would you do the same with the casketed body of their loved one? Why are cremated remains so different? Where is the reverence and the ceremony? Expert Celebrant Glenda Stansbury’s concept of infusing ceremony into every interaction with families includes the moment the cremated remains are retrieved from your care. We need to remind ourselves to maintain the respect for the cremated remains. Knowing you’ve helped to lay remains at a gravesite offers a sense of closure and security, so why not ask where the cremated remains are going? Chances are good that you’ll be able to provide the same closure and security if you offer useful ideas.
- Cemetery placement is only possible if the cemetery embraces cremation, too. Cemeterians—have you truly updated your cemetery rules and regulations to accommodate a cremation age? Do you offer multiple memorialization options—burial, above ground niches, benches, ossuaries, scattering, and memorial walls for those who scattered elsewhere? If 60-80% of cremated remains go home, there are millions of boxes sitting on shelves and guilty family members cringing every time they see that box. They have a problem and you have a solution. You can help remove their guilt, offer closure, and lay their loved one at peace—even years after the death. I recognize that this is the toughest market in which to communicate value, but the recent consumer media frenzy about maintaining clean cemeteries demonstrates that people worry about perpetual care and they abandon their loved ones at funeral homes because they know they’ll be safe there. A recent speaker at a CANA event called cemeteries the “biggest museums in the world” with “more history in them than a lot of other places” and genealogical information for generations. Your role has never been more important, and framing it that way is key.
You’ll notice none of my proposed solutions attempt to convince the consumer they’re wrong. That tradition is the best, that cremation is bad. Partially that’s because I work for the Cremation Association of North America, but mostly it’s because cremation is a bell that cannot be unrung. The cremation rate passed 50% in 2016 and will not revert.
In our industry’s past, we tried to partition families by their burial and cremation preferences. Now, we have to unteach the public and ourselves. There’s no such thing as “just cremation.” Compassion, service, options, grief, problems, solutions, and placement are relevant to every death, no matter the disposition. But solutions only work if we believe we can solve the problem, and if we can meet the family’s needs.
Barbara Kemmis is Executive Director of the Cremation Association of North America.
All CANA members can benefit from community outreach and consumer education programs by using the PR Toolkit to develop a strategy. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access tools, techniques, statistics, and advice to help you understand how to grow the range of services and products you can offer, ensuring your business is a good fit for every member of your community – only $470!
tips and tools
Posted By Danielle Burmeister, Homesteaders Marketing Communications Lead,
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Today’s consumers foster inherent skepticism toward traditional advertising. Instead, they prefer and rely on recommendations from people they know and trust. To effectively reach these consumers, you need brand advocates – individuals who have first-hand knowledge of your funeral home and can share their positive experiences through word-of-mouth referrals.
Your brand advocates are well placed to offer credible recommendations to their peers. They sing your praises to others in the community without incentives like coupons, discounts or special offers. They do it because you have earned it, and they are often your most effective recruiters, a compelling blend of advocacy and authenticity.
The most successful funeral businesses rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and testimonials to increase brand awareness in their community. But to truly capitalize on this valuable pool of promoters, you need to know how to identify and mobilize your brand advocates.
How do you identify brand advocates?
The most obvious place to look for brand advocates is among your client families. These individuals are well acquainted with your goods and services because they’ve experienced them firsthand. This makes them valuable sources of information about your business. However, not every customer makes an effective brand advocate. To ensure you’re focusing your attention on those individuals who are going to have the most impact on your business, you should identify customers who have had memorable and rich experiences with your funeral home.
Storytelling is an essential part of word-of-mouth recommendations for funeral businesses. No one truly wants to shop for a funeral – caskets, vaults, urns and monuments are not fun to buy. Very few people are going to be compelled to use your services because they hear you have an impressive collection of 18-gauge steel caskets. Instead, they respond to story-based recommendations that describe experiences and emotions. And the most effective stories are the memorable ones – the ones that get told and retold from person to person.
My family recently experienced two losses that illustrate the importance of memorable services. When my grandmother passed away, we planned what many of us think of as a “traditional” service: an immediate cremation followed by a visitation for friends and community members, a memorial service at the local church, a lunch reception at the community center and a short graveside service at the Veterans cemetery. While the day was certainly meaningful for my family, it was not necessarily memorable to those who attended.
When my cousin died a year later, we planned a very different service. We held the funeral in the high school gymnasium, with his name lit up on the scoreboard above a red bowtie – his favorite accessory. Every member of his graduating class wore bowties, even some of his coaches. During the service, dozens of teachers and friends shared stories, some sweet, others funny – all memorable. The luncheon afterward was even catered by his favorite barbecue restaurant. His service was memorable – so much so that many in the community are still talking about it three years later.
Consider the last 10 services you performed at your funeral home. How many of them were truly memorable? Can you picture attendees sharing stories from the service with their friends and relatives? Will people still be talking about that experience a year from now? Two years? Ten? If you’re not sure, you likely need to spend some time working with your staff on creative memorialization and personalization so that each and every family leaves your funeral home with a memorable experience that they are excited to share with everyone they know.
When looking for brand advocates, you should also consider the breadth of experience a family has had with your business. Someone who selected direct cremation is unlikely to have much to say about your funeral home – good or bad. They simply haven’t had much exposure to you or your business. On the other hand, consider the credibility and influence of an individual who met with you in a prearrangement setting for their spouse; interacted with your staff at the first viewing, visitation and memorial service; took advantage of your aftercare efforts; and then returned to plan and fund their own funeral. A customer who has this kind of rich experience with you and your staff is much more likely to be a loyal, informed advocate for your business.
How can you mobilize brand advocates?
Unfortunately, identifying your most effective brand advocates is the easy part. Learning to motivate and deploy them effectively is much more difficult.
To mobilize your brand advocates, you first need to build and nurture meaningful relationships with them. This first part is likely something that already comes naturally to you – after all, you work in a relational profession. You likely know many of your client families before they come in for an arrangement conference, and if not, you are skilled at establishing a connection with them within a few minutes of meeting. However, it’s just as important to continue to foster those relationships long after the immediate need has passed.
There are few tangible ways to do this. First, take advantage of as many fact-to-face interactions as you can. That means dropping off paperwork at a widow’s home instead of mailing it, offering to transport flowers to the family’s home so they don’t have to pack them into their station wagon, and taking time to greet your customers whenever you see them out in the community. You may even consider calling the surviving spouse three or four weeks after the service just to check in, or taking them out for coffee so they have something to look forward to once all their friends have stopped calling and visiting.
You should also leverage opportunities to continue to provide service to families through your existing aftercare. Make sure every family knows what’s available – newsletters, emails, grief support groups, etc. Let them know why they’re important and offer to connect them with others who have found value in participating in those programs. Whenever you have events at your funeral home, like open houses, memorial services or holiday events, make sure you invite your brand advocates. Attending provides them with more exposure to your business and gives them one more thing to talk about with their friends and relatives.
The last – and most important – step in mobilizing brand advocates is asking your client families for referrals. This is often an uncomfortable thing for funeral professionals to do, but it’s a key part of leveraging brand advocates to promote your business. Often, customers who have had great experiences with your business are already inclined to promote you in their communities, but it’s still a good idea to remind them that it’s a valuable thing for them to do.
When you ask for referrals, make sure you incorporate three things:
- Explain why their recommendation is valuable. Talking about death can be uncomfortable for your client families, but you can help normalize it by encouraging them to share their experiences. I’ve found that the most effective way to do this is to focus on what they can do for other families: “Losing a loved one is difficult for every family – especially those who have never experienced loss before. You can help the people in your life prepare for the loss of their own loved ones by sharing your experience with them.”
- Ask them to provide a testimonial or referral. Timing is important. If you already have a follow-up system in place (like a survey), that is the ideal opportunity to ask for testimonials. If not, follow up with families a week or two after the conclusion of services to check in and ask about their experience. If they have great things to say about you and your staff, encourage them to share their thoughts with others: “We’ve found that hearing from other families we’ve served helps others who experience a loss understand what they can expect when they use our funeral home. Would you be comfortable providing a testimonial about your experience?”
- Let them know how/where to provide feedback. Decide how you want your client families to share their feedback. Ideally, they will be talking about your business everywhere they go. But it’s also a good idea to give them a concrete starting point – like your funeral home’s Facebook page. Once you’ve asked for a testimonial, make sure they know where to go to provide it: “We are honored you chose our firm to care for your loved one. Our service standard is to provide exceptional service to each and every family. If you feel we went above and beyond in our service to you, please share that on our funeral home’s Facebook page.”
One final note: The best way you can ensure you are identifying and mobilizing your brand advocates is to build the process into your standard operations. Make sure everyone on your staff understands the importance of providing memorable service to your client families. Train them to be on the lookout for individuals who have rich experiences with your firm and stories to share about your services. Then set expectations for how you will ask families for testimonials and ensure that every member of your team knows how valuable those testimonials can be for your funeral business.
Danielle Burmeister grew up in an apartment above her parents’ funeral home, where she cleaned cars, arranged flowers, and played “Taps” for graveside services. Some of her earliest memories include family dinners squeezed between visitations and road trips to local and national funeral association conventions.
Now, Burmeister works as Marketing Communications Lead at Homesteaders Life Company, a national leader in providing products and services to support the funding of advance funeral plans. In her current role, she offers a unique perspective on blending the day-to-day demands of a funeral business with creative and comprehensive marketing strategy.
Follow her on Twitter @burmeisterd1.
tips and tools
Posted By Jason Engler, CANA Historian,
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Nearly every movement in American history has begun with a handful of hearty men guiding the reins of change and progress. The cremation movement in America is no different. In its early years, a strong cast of characters brought cremation from the dark of superstition into the light of knowledge. F. Julius LeMoyne (builder of the first crematory in the U.S.), Henry Steel Olcott (co-founder of the Theosophical Society), and Dr. Hugo Erichsen (Detroit medical practitioner and founder of CANA), among others, all played important roles in the formation of America’s cremation movement.
However, if men were at the head of the early movement, then women most certainly helped to determine the direction of the men’s efforts and encouraged the growing public acceptance of cremation customs. Women were at the forefront in turning the cremation movement into a reality in America because they were among the first people to be cremated in the earliest crematories in the country.
The third person cremated in a modern crematory in the United States was Jane Pitman (Bragg), wife of Benn Pitman, the stenographer during the trial of President Lincoln’s assassins. In 1885, Peggy Smith was the first person cremated at Buffalo Cremation Co. (now Forest Lawn Cemetery in New York). Barbara Schorr was the first person cremated at Detroit Crematorium in 1887 (now Woodmere-Detroit Crematorium). In 1886, Olive A. Bird was the first person cremated in Southern California Crematory (now Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery), and in 1888, Elizabeth Todd Terry was the first person cremated at Missouri Crematory (now Valhalla’s Hillcrest Abbey Crematory). Suffragist Lucy Stone was the first person cremated at Massachusetts Crematory, in 1893 (now Forest Hills Cemetery). These pioneering women were so ahead of their time that in several cases their bodies had to be stored while crematory construction was completed.
Women in the Cremation Movement
Though the final disposition choice of these women demonstrated how the notion of cremation had taken hold, the movement still required living champions. Perhaps the most famous of these was Frances Willard. A noted suffragist and feminist, Willard was well known for her progressive stance in many areas, including the cremation movement. She described her thoughts on cremation and her involvement in the movement in a statement that has become one of the most well known in the history of cremation. When asked her opinion, she stated:
I choose the luminous path of light rather than the dark slow road of the valley of the shadow of death. Holding these opinions, I have the purpose to help forward progressive movements even in my latest hours, and hence hereby decree that the earthly mantle which I shall drop ere long – shall be swiftly enfolded in flames and rendered powerless to harmfully effect the health of the living.
This quotation proved so meaningful to the cremation movement that a plaque bearing these words hangs in nearly every historic columbarium in the country.
Willard was cremated in the Chicago Crematory in Graceland Cemetery upon her death in 1898. Her stance was so notorious that, even after Willard’s own death, a satirical obituary for her cat ran in The New York Times, under the title “To Cremate a Cat.”
Followers of the cremation movement increased as the century turned. Authors of the time penned essays informing the public about the cremation option. Sheba Hargreaves was among many who produced pamphlets urging cremation and inurnment. She painted cremation as a beautiful process to be supported and embraced by all who truly cared for their dead.
Women in Memorialization
During the “Memorial Idea” period of cremation’s history, which began in the late 1920s, there was a concerted effort to ensure that cremated remains were memorialized with the same dignity and dedication as full remains. The leading men of the era, including Lawrence Moore (Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, CA), Herbert Hargrave (Chapel of the Light in Fresno, CA) and Clifford Zell (Valhalla Chapel of Memories in St. Louis, MO), were strongly supported in their activities by their female counterparts—women such as Alta Phillips (Hollywood Columbarium in Hollywood, CA) and Teresina Morgan (Chapel of Memories in Oakland, CA).
At the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, an entire cadre of women formed the backbone of the staff. They were charged with describing the Memorial Idea for the families who called upon the crematory for service. Moore felt the women could, like no one else, guide families through the daunting process of choosing a permanent memorial. With the dedication of evangelists, men taught other men the ‘gospel of cremation,’ women of cremation were the true apostles of ‘the good news’ of this ‘sanitary and aesthetic method’ and sold this idea to the families they served.
Women’s influence brought many of the most beautiful cremation memorials into existence. Well-known architect Julia Morgan redesigned and constructed one of the most stunning columbaria in the country at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland in 1928. This famed chapel would ultimately be named after cremationist Frances Willard and incorporate her famous sentiment.
Eventually, this golden age of the “Memorial Idea” began to take a new course in the 1960s. Driven by many factors, the change was primarily due to a movement toward simplicity. In 1963, Jessica Mitford wrote her satirical expose The American Way of Death. Propelled by the excitement that Mitford’s book spawned, the idea of simple direct cremation began to take hold. By the late 1970s the memorial idea started to lose its hold on cremation, and, as it did, the Cremation Association of North America did everything possible to maintain the integrity of what they viewed as the right course: the permanent memorialization of cremated remains. Women were actively involved in the association’s efforts.
Women in CANA
In 1979, the Cremation Association of North America elected not only its first female president, but also the first female president in the history of any death care association. Genevieve “Jinger” Zell, widow of CANA’s past president Clifford F. Zell, Jr., took the reins of the association during a time when cremation was experiencing a major transformation. The U.S. cremation rate reached a tipping point of 10% during her presidency. She was one of the most ardent supporters devoted to continuing CANA’s ideals of inurnment and permanent memorialization, staunchly advocating against the processing of cremated remains.
After Zell, women continued attain positions of leadership. Mary Helen Tripp was elected president in 1991, followed by Corrine Olvey in 1997, and, most recently, Sheri Stahl in 2015. Today, CANA boasts some of the most forward-thinking women in the profession: Caressa Hughes, Robbie Pape, Elisa Krcilek, and Erin Whitaker are making their mark in the history of cremation by serving as board members, officers, and advisors of the association that is on the cutting edge of all things cremation.
CANA’s executive director is Barbara Kemmis. Under her tutelage, the association has gone from being dependent on a management company to being entirely stand-alone and self-sufficient. Kemmis has been instrumental in the reformation of the industry’s original and foremost Crematory Operations Certification Program™ (COCP™).
The COCP was reviewed and revised and a whole new catalog of online professional education programs were developed by CANA’s Education Director Jennifer Head. If you read The Cremationist Magazine, what you read is the direct result of the hard work of Sara Corkery, editor of the trade journal.
From past to future, women have played, and will always continue to play, a very important role in all movements in our country. In our ever-evolving society, who better to guide cremation and CANA’s future?
This post is the first in our series on the history of cremation to get ready for the opening of The History of Cremation exhibition at the National Museum of Funeral History. Learn more about the exhibit and how you can contribute on the museum’s website.
Our second post looks at how the treatment of cremated remains influenced memorialization practices and memorialization practices influenced our treatment of cremated remains. Read on!
Jason Ryan Engler is a licensed funeral director and is known as the Cremation Historian. His interest in the funeral profession came at an early age in his life and his intrigue with the practice of cremation memorialization has put him on a journey of appreciating the beauty of the torch over the spade. Not only is Jason a practicing funeral director, he is also a speaker for local, state, and national associations. He also serves as the Cremation Historian for both the National Museum of Funeral History and the Cremation Association of North America. Mr. Engler’s articles have appeared in regional and national funeral and cremation trade journals including “The Dead Beat,” “The Cremationist of North America,” and “Funeral Business Advisor.” Additionally, he is author of the book "Body to the Purifying Flame: A History of the Missouri Crematory, St. Louis, Missouri."
Posted By Administration,
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2018
In light of recent regulatory events, the consumer media is turning to all of us and asking the question that everyone in the cremation industry hears most often:
How do I know this is my loved one?
A Chain of Custody procedure is never more important than in moments like these. Here, you can demonstrate your commitment to a family and leave them with confidence to trust you with the care of their loved one.
But what do we mean by chain of custody? Every step of your work in the handling of each case must be documented accurately and carefully: custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition. CANA recommends crematory facilities make a description of the cremation practice, policy, and procedures available to the family. And, even more importantly, the policy must by followed every time, no exceptions.
Chain of Custody
Many forms are used to document the steps in the cremation process. It may seem that some of the forms repeat the same information, but it is important to maintain complete, accurate, and cross-referenced records. Your firm should have a comprehensive written procedure guide outlining the steps in the process from receipt of the deceased to return of the cremated remains, and it should include the associated forms, verification, and documentation required. Chain of custody documentation, including the ID tag, ensure the identity of the remains and provide objective evidence of identification post-cremation.
Keep in mind that state and provincial laws governing documentation and record keeping range widely, and every crematory operator must learn what laws specifically apply to their location(s).
But chain of custody goes beyond merely complying with regulations. A thorough and followed chain of custody demonstrates professionalism by establishing and adhering to policies and procedures consistent with industry best practices. Every step of the process needs to be performed in absolute accordance with policies and procedures that have been designed to prevent errors.
Once the remains are in the custody of the crematory, it is important to track and record every step of the cremation process. In the event that there are ever any questions about any case, you will be able to demonstrate that the remains were appropriately handled at every stage. Policies, procedures, forms and all of the paperwork in the world are worthless without compliance and consistency. Doing it the same way every time helps assure that mistakes are not made. If you never do it differently, you will do it right every time.
Documenting chain of custody is key to avoiding lawsuits for negligence in this area. Every step of the way must be recorded without exception, and the records must be archived and accessible if needed. Inaccurate, incomplete, or unfollowed documentation is worse than not having it.
Be thorough and complete with every entry every time. Write legibly when filling out forms. A document that you cannot read is worthless. If you leave a field blank it will raise a red flag. Was that field forgotten? Or was it really not applicable? If there is a space to record information and you either do not have that information or it doesn’t apply to this individual, mark that fact down in the space.
Document retention and filing methods are important as well. If you can’t find something, even if it was filled out perfectly, it doesn’t exist.
If you use a third party for your cremation families, you must still prepare chain of custody procedures and require the crematory you work with to meet or exceed your standards. Ask to see their policies and tour their facility. Conduct random checks of the crematory and audit their paperwork as you would your own. You must be able to stand by the practices of their crematory and clearly describe the chain of custody to the families you serve.
If you operate as a third party crematory serving funeral homes, you know better than most the complications that can occur when working with a remote facility. Not only should any crematory working as a third party maintain the standards described above, but you must maintain your policies and follow the procedures for your various clients. Holding their staff to the standards you hold your own requires diligence. Keeping open communication and maintaining transparency allows your clients and their families to rest easy with loved ones in your care.
Assess Your Standards
Despite the importance of maintaining clear and comprehensive documentation throughout every step of the process, too many facilities make the same types of easily avoided errors. Overconfidence in experience, employees spread too thin, sacrificing thoroughness for efficiency, and choosing the company over compliance are common errors but indefensible. A key thing to remember about liability risk is how small, seemingly minor lapses can have huge consequences for the operator and the facility.
How do you know your chain of custody meets appropriate standards? Walk through your documentation with a hypothetical case (like the one below) and make sure you track the remains throughout the entire process: from when you first take custody of the remains until they leave your control.
Management should perform regular audits of the crematory’s record keeping to assure that all the procedures are being consistently performed. Because cremation has become the number one area of liability in the funeral profession, solid documentation accompanied by iron-clad policies and procedures are the best way to demonstrate the truth and ease the mind of a concerned family member.
What follows is a case study of a cremation gone wrong. The case is an amalgam of true events which have occurred in businesses over the past several years.
The decedent is Peggy Jones of Anywhere, USA. Peggy died alone in her home in July at the age of 62. Although she was married when she died, Peggy had been separated from her husband for 20 years. At the time of her death, Peggy was living with Mr. Smith, her partner of 18 years. Mr. Smith was traveling overseas when Peggy died, and thus, her remains were not discovered until several days after her death.
Peggy’s remains were discovered when a neighbor noted an odor emanating from Peggy’s home. The local authorities were notified, who in turn contacted your facility regarding the death.
ISSUE 1: Identification of the Remains at Removal
The medical examiner staff member was on scene when your removal team arrived. Having located Peggy’s driver’s license, the ME staff tagged the remains correctly, i.e., “Peggy Jones.” However, the remains were verbally identified as “Peggy Jonas.” The body bag contained a tag which also identified the deceased as “Peggy Jonas.” Finally, although her given name was “Peggy,” the ME staff prepared documents identifying the deceased as “Margaret” Jones. From the outset, Peggy’s remains had been identified in three ways - two of which were inaccurate.
The easiest way to cremate the wrong remains is improper identification.
What should have happened . . .
The removal staff should have personally examined the remains to confirm the identification affixed thereto. If any discrepancy among the documents, bag and tag affixed to the remains existed, then that discrepancy should have been resolved prior at removal.
ISSUE 2: Tracking and Identification of Remains from Removal to Crematory
The remains were placed into refrigeration at your facility. The refrigeration log reflected that the remains of Peggy Jonas were placed into refrigeration at 8:42 a.m. Due to the uncertainty over the cause of her unattended death, Mr. Smith requested that a private autopsy be conducted by State U. State U logged the remains out of refrigeration at your funeral facility at 5:00 p.m. that same day, having presented documents identifying Peggy as M. Jones. State U logged Peggy’s remains back into your care the following morning at 8:00 a.m., again, as M. Jones.
Each and every document must identify the remains correctly.
What should have happened . . .
You should have ensured that Peggy’s remains were identified correctly and in exactly the same way on each document making reference to them. Effective tracking and accurate cross-reference, is a must.
Cremation is Permanent
As it turns out, the language contained on nearly every cremation authorization form is true:
Cremation is an irreversible, unstoppable process.
Of course, one would think that the statement goes without saying, and yet, every cremation customer is reminded of the permanence of the cremation process. What makes the phrase worth repeating here, however, is that too often cremation providers fail to recognize the weight of the statement. Failing to follow standard practices jeopardize the trust of the cremation-buying public, as well as your license to practice.
By now, you may be thinking: “Any licensee that would make the type of mistakes described in this case doesn’t deserve to serve the cremation buying public.” But, mistakes just like these can be made every day, not from malice but from negligence and ignorance. Keep current on your state’s requirements related to identification, authorization and disposition. Audit your procedures to make sure they are thorough and followed by everyone. Doing so will protect you and your families from the devastation which can be caused by a simple error.
A crematory operator is a vital part of the overall process of turning a dead body into a living memory for a family. It is absurd to think that any good operator would want to do anything less than a perfect job for the family of the deceased. After all, it’s more about the family than anything else, right?
Excerpted from The Cremationist, Vol 54, Issue 1: “All Systems Go 4 Record-Keeping” by Larry Stuart, Jr. of Cremation Strategies & Consulting and CANA’s Crematory Operations Certification Program™ (COCP™) Module 4: Chain of Custody. Special thanks for Wendy Russell Weiner of Broad & Cassel for lending her experience and expertise with the case and important lessons we can all learn from.
Members can read the full article with specific recommendations paperwork to use and proper filing in Vol. 54, No. 1 Issue of The Cremationist. Not a member? Consider joining your business to access this and all archives of The Cremationist plus resources and statistics to help you find solutions for all aspects of your business -- only $470.
Always obtain expert legal advice on policies and procedures for compliance and liability review. Contact CANA’s own Legal Counsel Lara Price, Wendy Russell Wiener’s firm, Broad & Cassel, or any death care legal advisor. You can also learn more by contacting Cremation Strategies & Consulting for consultation on improving your systems.
Throughout his experience as President of Crematory Manufacturing & Service, Inc., Larry Stuart, Jr. has seen, first hand, the negative impact that poor crematory operations can bring about, both in the front and back of the house. Larry has written articles, developed cremation curricula, and spoken at numerous professional events. He has trained and certified thousands of cremation professionals across North America, all with a mission to advance the safety and efficiency of cremation facilities and the safety of their employees, and to foster a more positive impact on our community and our environment. As the founder of Cremation Strategies & Consulting, Larry continues his mission to educate our industry peers, our customers, and the public about cremation, its history, its cultural significance as part of the funeral rite, its impact on the environment, and operational best practices.
Wendy Russell Wiener is a partner at Broad and Cassel, LLP, and the chair of the regulatory department. Wiener practices regulatory insurance law and regulatory death care industry law, representing entities and individuals who interact with the administrative agencies that regulate all aspects of insurance and the death care industry. She represents clients in all types of licensing (for individuals and entities) and disciplinary matters, practice before the administrative tribunal, state and federal courts and interaction with regulators. Wiener is a member of the Federation of Regulatory Counsel (FORC), a limited group of lawyers who focus their practices on regulatory insurance law. She is a frequent contributor to the organization’s quarterly journal. Wiener is an active member of various professional and community organizations and is the former president of Temple Israel in Tallahassee. She is co-chair of the Tallahassee Jewish Food Festival and of the Southern Shakespeare Festival (Festival Day). She has served as past president of Raising a Healthy Child, Inc., and is involved with the ACT Board of the Young Actors Theatre.
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